Friday, March 16, 2012


If the Hudson Valley is the closest thing New York state has to the Burgundy region (and I would posit that is being recognized as that more and more), then one needs to consider the white wines of the valley. The valley produces a wide range of white wines from Tocai Fruliano to Seyval Blanc, and others.

But the most direct correlation to Burgundy styled wines of the whites is Chardonnay. Chardonnay has really started to take hold here in the valley, and it is proving to be a great and credible region, with some incredible characteristics.

The valley was formed thousands of years ago, when the receding Wisconsin ice sheet gouged a deep ravine up the eastern border of what is now New York state, not far from its New England neighbors, Connecticut and Massachusetts mainly. As it withdrew its icy hand, scratching like fingernails on chalkboard over the state’s northbound rocky spine of the Catskills, it deposited river rocks all along the many farms on both sides of the river.

The terroir of the Hudson Valley is then mostly large and medium round river stones, slate, and some clay. Other compounds emerge from vineyard to vineyard, but these three elements are never very far. A common joke amongst Hudson Valley vineyard owners is that they grow rocks better than anything else.

One of the things many of the region’s best chardonnays have in common is a certain minerality. Whether the vintners do a stainless steel version, with lots of fruit and mineral, or a more complex, Burgundy styled white, made left on lees, with a malolactic touch of creaminess, and hints of toasty oak, these wines come from a place. Using Matt Kramer’s term, they have a “somewhereness” to them.

The best chardonnays of the valley, hands down are: Oak Summit Chardonnay, Millbrook Chardonnay, Tousey Chardonnay, Whitecliff Chardonnay, Cereghino-Smith Chardonnay, and Brotherhood Chardonnay. No order is implied here. These are wines that have won major awards or have gotten review attention from major media and received excellent scores. These are the ones the experts have raved about. Places like the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal, and other newspapers and magazines.

These chardonnays are made with complexity and a drinkability that begs for seafood, whether its shellfish or trout almandine, fresh Hudson Valley artisanal cheeses, salads, soups, a great risotto, or a hot herb-roasted chicken. Served slightly chilled, these whites show big fruits up front like green apple, apricot, honeysuckle, melon and other classic characteristics. The best of them, like the ones above, have a delicateness that makes them elegant, nuanced, and refreshing.
I can’t pretend to have tried all the other chardonnays in the Hudson Valley, as much as I would like to. Upon searching, there are more Chardonnays than even I expected. And many of them are very good (I’ve tasted a bunch) and very, very drinkable. Chardonnay is in fact the most widely produced white wine in the valley.

The Oak Summitt, Tousey, and Millbrook were grown on the east side of the river not far from each other, and have big, lovely fruit forward characters, but delicate flavors and beautiful finishes. And the Brotherhood chardonnay, though made on the west bank of the river, is actually grown on the east side north of Tousey in Columbia County. Tousey’s future chardonnays will also come from that same vineyard.

The Whitecliff is estate grown, and a delicate, flinty white dry wine with wonderful acidity and elegance. And the Cereghino-Smith is blended with a hint of Viognier, giving it a wonderful nose and tremendous fruit forward profile, with a clean, crisp finish.

Other quality wines include Robibero Chardonnay, Palaia Chardonnay, Warwick Chardonnay, Hudson-Chatham Chardonnay, Ledge Rock Hill Chardonnay, El Paso Chardonnay, Basha Kill Wood Duck, Clearview Chardonnay, and Pazdar Chardonnay.

I strongly recommend you try a Hudson Valley chardonnay and taste what the valley has to offer!